- Friends & Family
- Mental Health
- Other Addictions
Since I was a child, everybody knew something wasn’t right with me. I was a happy kid for most of my childhood. I had a great life in suburbia with a loving family, I went to a good school, and I had a couple of buddies to hang with. Nothing was strange about the way I grew up for the most part.
I was a very creative kid. I was the oldest of three, so I was always coming up with games to play with my brother and sister. We’d pretend to be pirates, or Roman centurions, or cowboys (my poor bother, the youngest was always the bad guy that my sister and I were out to destroy). I played with my GI Joes, my Legos, my Star Wars toys, always concocting scenarios as though I was writing a movie. I was an adult when I realized that some of that time in childhood was spent in an effort to escape.
My mom says that symptoms of a mood disorder began when I was 11 or 12. I was anxious all the time. I couldn’t sleep because I was worried about my dad when he would go play shows as a musician. My parents got divorced when I was 14. I wound up being a troubled kid. I did drugs, I cut class, I vandalized things. My grades went down the drain.
At that point, what would later be diagnosed as obsessive compulsive disorder started. My thoughts began to go out of control. They affected me physically.
I especially wanted to control other people. I had a really hard time with friends, especially girls. I was always worried that people might dislike me, or even hate me. But I don’t mean worried… I mean obsessed. I would concoct ridiculous stories in my mind where nightmare scenarios happened and my emotions would be on overdrive. Then, suddenly, I’d crash and become depressed for weeks at a time.
I didn’t tell people about this. I mean, how could I? I didn’t understand it myself, and I didn’t think there was anything weird about it. I mean, this was just life for me. I thought everybody felt that way– and maybe they do, to an extent. The problem was that, for me, it took over my life. I would fully go through that cycle.
I was often super amped, expending crazy amounts of energy, wasting time worrying or thinking and then crashing into sadness, despair, and hopelessness. My friends all said I was just hyper, but it was more than that. It was obsession. I tried smoking weed, and that helped sometimes. Drinking became my escape. I’d drink whatever I could, whenever I could. Then, I started smoking cigarettes. I was obsessed with cigarettes. They gave me something to control.
By the time I finished high school, I was doing all three. Then I joined the military. I was in the Army Reserve Band. That seemed to fix things temporarily. In that kind of environment, you don’t have time to think or you’re too tired to think. Things were okay, but slowly began to backslide back into these periods of obsessive, keyed up thought and down depressive thought. The weirdest thing was/is, that I didn’t know why I was feeling that stuff. It was like my brain was on auto pilot.
It got worse. I would not leave my apartment for long stretches of time, unless I went to work. I have always been able to work because work is a place where I don’t have time to think. But as soon as I went home, it was “back to the hell”. That’s what I call it. I came up with names for this stuff so I can could defeat it all. “The hell”, “the bug”, “the bad place”, whatever. I made up elaborate stories to try to help myself feel better.
The problem was that I eventually began to confuse those stories with reality. I started hearing things in my head. Evil things. Scary things. Several of them, like demons arguing. And I was locked in the middle of it with no say in the matter. People couldn’t be trusted. Everyone was out to get me. I believed that I was destined to save the world by creating a record that would trigger all of the young people in the world to rise up and kill everyone that didn’t care about things, and I was to be their Hitler-like leader. It sounds crazy, but I believed this was true. Real Charles Manson type stuff.
I still believe things like this in the back of my mind, though not as doomy or scary. I can rationalize those thoughts as ridiculous, but there are things that still remain. Look up “religiosity” in bipolar patients. Am I Jesus? Am I the Anti-Christ? Does it matter that my name means “he who honors God/Beloved King/Carpenter” (which means Jesus)? Or is it weird that my screen just turned off as I said that? Or the number 47? And then when I inevitably realize that none of those things hold meaning. I would eventually “come back to Earth”. I would crash. Depressed. Like, “I want to die” level of depressed.
Then I’d be okay for a while, and then it would happen again. The intervals grew more frequent. Several days or weeks of this totally delusional stuff would be followed by weeks and weeks of depression. I didn’t really know much about bipolar disorder at the time, I just thought it was when people were happy then mad for no reason. (I can knock that out on the way to work). The truth is there’s several kinds of it, and I would later be diagnosed as Bipolar I.
But before then, I moved to Nashville and that’s where things got bad. The chaos in my head was so bad that I couldn’t make sense of anything. I still don’t have many meaningful relationships other than family because my brain goes into chaos and I spiral into a manic episode. The cycle continued until finally I realized I was bleeding in my car and I realized I had a problem that wasn’t going to go away and I needed help. My brain felt broken, and no matter what– I had to find out how to fix it.
The night that I decided I needed help, I had been feeling all over the place. Things weren’t making sense. I couldn’t trust my senses, and everyone was out to get me. So I went out to my car. *Trigger Warning* I grabbed my knife and I started to cut. I had done this before, but this time I made some really deep cuts in my arms, a couple that still are really scarred.
The thing was that I didn’t want to die. I don’t think I’ve ever actually wanted to die. I just wanted things to change. I wanted my brain to stop being so horrible to me. I wanted release from the turmoil inside my mind. I felt like my brain was broken, so instead of killing myself I redirected it by cutting. As I bled from my arms, the sting distracted me from the craziness, and the blood made me feel calm. I looked at it, touched it, tasted it, looked at the blood on the blade.
Suddenly, I realized something. I have a problem. And I don’t think I can live like this forever. So I called Military One Source (I was in the Army Reserve) and they set me up with a therapist, who immediately said “you need to go to a doctor”. So I went to a doctor. Her name was Lisa, and she diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. She prescribed me Lithium, and that began my journey down the road to recovery. That was nine years ago.
I was not surprised by my diagnosis once my therapist told me about it. I come from a long line of people with mental illness (my great grandfather spent time in a sanitarium). My prescription for Lithium was just the start of it though. See, bipolar patients normally have to go on a “cocktail” of medication because they deal with multiple things at once. Me, for example, I take one medication for the depression, two for anxiety, and one for mood stabilization (Lithium). By the way, don’t believe any of the nonsense about Lithium. It is a miracle drug and it saved my life.
I had to try at least 14 other drugs to get it right over the course of several years. One made people think I was drunk at work, another decreased my perfect pitch by a half-step, and others just plain didn’t do anything.
But finally, I got on Celexa and my life changed forever. I can remember that day. I felt like I could see colors for the first time. I felt like, finally, my inner monologue wasn’t trying to kill me– all four of them, rebelling against me and taking over my mind and body. I felt like I was a newborn baby. Soon after, I had my first successful long relationship (three years!) and my quality of life has risen dramatically. I’ve been on the same meds since 2012, and am largely free of symptoms, as long as I take my medications.
My advice is this: Know who is in your support network. If you don’t have one, call me and I’ll be your support network. Listen to them. If they bug you about taking your meds, its only because they care. Be honest with them and yourself. Yes, you have a mood disorder. Yes, you are going to have it forever. You may get off your meds, you may not, but if your doctor says to take them, you need to take them.
Don’t be ashamed at yourself. It is hard to deal with this stuff. Most people don’t know what it is like. Don’t hold it against them for it, but also don’t assume that you’re supposed to just magically be fine either. Try to educate people when you can, try to help them understand, and if they don’t, they just don’t need to be in your life.
You are not your illness! I hate it when people say “I’m being so bipolar” or “I’m OCD about such and such”. You can’t be any of those things. You can have OCD or BPD, but you are not them. They do not define you. You are still you, and you’re probably pretty awesome. Just like living with HIV, lupus, diabetes, etc., you LIVE WITH bipolar disorder, you MANAGE it.
Love yourself, even when your condition causes you to do things that seem like you should be embarrassed. You can only do the best you can with this. Elect to have people around you that understand. If they don’t, then that’s their problem, not yours. If you’re afraid to go to the doctor, go. Worst case scenario is they’re going to tell you nothing is wrong with you, and you’re going to have to figure out why else you might be feeling the things you’re feeling.
A diagnosis of a mental illness is not a death sentence– actually I think of it as the opposite. Its saying, “Hey, I think I need help, so I’m going to go get it so that I can have a better quality of life.” Remember– your brain is everything. If that’s not working, what do you have?
All our brains are beautiful, but some of them need some help in this society we’re living in. If you are one of these people, then the sooner you get to your doctor, the sooner you can start managing it. Be prepared to have to try some different meds. There’s new ones coming out all the time, and many of them work great for some and terribly for others. We still don’t know a ton about the brain (even though we know a ton more than we used to).
Be patient through the process. You’ll know when it is right. Remember that you are managing a condition. You have to stay on it. Take your meds when you’re supposed to. Resist the urge to stop taking them. You have to do that only on the advice of your doctor.
Try to accept the diagnosis the doctor has given you and instead of fighting it, learn to accept it, live with it, and start living well with it. Remember how brave you are. My mom tells me this all the time. You have to be brave to face this. It is one thing to go into battle against enemies you can see, that you can fight and win against. It is a whole other thing to have to battle your own mind, where the enemy feels like it is you, yourself. That is courage.
It will get hard sometimes. Some days you will fail. Some days will be worse than others, but you deserve a good quality of life, and you have to focus on why your brain is GOOD. You have a unique place in this world, and I hope you can join me in breaking the stigma so that other people can get help, get better, and life well.
Life today is great, but it is still a fight. I actually have to take all the things that come with being bipolar—like medications. That has always been a problem. I don’t like taking them. They taste bad, it is annoying to remember, and I don’t like wondering whether my thoughts are because of me or the meds.
From time to time, I have stopped taking them. I immediately go back into “scaryland” as my mom and I call it. Worse still, if it is really bad, the only way I can feel differently or to release is to drink and/or to cut. (I had a relapse not too long ago, and I’m still kind of on the mend, and in this case it wasn’t because I didn’t take the meds. Now I have to go to the doctor and see why things are flaring up again.)
The other thing is that people suck sometimes. That girlfriend I had constantly told me she was uncomfortable with me taking Lithium. Then another one tried to tell me that I didn’t need it and that bipolar disorder is a scam (my family wanted to slap her as she said that because I had just gotten back on medication). I often feel like I’m way behind my peers, as my growing up was altered by this monster in my head, disallowing me from having normal relationships with people. People use it against me too, arguing that, “it is just your bipolar acting up, you don’t really feel these things,” or saying the medicine is controlling (read: saving) my mind.
Socially, I struggle a lot. I can’t imagine any women that would want to marry a nutjob. But I have to remember to stop saying that, because I’m not a nutjob, and what I’m talking about is stigma. It is the reason a lot of people don’t get help, because the people around them make it nearly impossible.
I’m not bipolar. I have bipolar disorder. But I demand to be able to have a happy life, and if taking my medication every day for the rest of my life (which is a very real possibility) is what I must do, so be it. Anybody that doesn’t like it simply isn’t going to be compatible with me. Nine years later, it is not always
I’m glad to be able to tell my story. I’ve never done it before, and it made sense. Thanks for reading.