Emptying My Head: Bipolar Depression, A Tale of Two People
No offense to Charles Dickens, but I cannot begin my story as the character, David Copperfield does. Dickens writes from David’s perspective, “I was born” and “I grew up.” For me, there is no order in my chaos, only chaos in my order. There is no clear chronological sequence in which my darkness makes any sense. There are pivotal, crucial, and traumatic moments that provide logic to why I feel the way I do and even why I behave the way I do, but there is no clear road that takes me from beginning to end.
Words my friends and family would use to describe me: nice, friendly, funny. That’s the external me, that’s the me I show the world but that is not the real me. I smile, nod and say, “Everything is fine.” I explain that I am just tired—tired of putting on the brave face in order to make others feel comfortable. Tired of feeling alone, like I am the only person on this planet that doesn’t feel okay. I can’t tell them that I don’t look forward to tomorrow or next week.
The words I use to describe myself: morose, angry, bitter, empty. How do two very different people exist in one being? Do we all hide parts of our true self in order to gain acceptance from others? Is it not how we thrive as a society? There is an innate fear of being the outcast, a freak, a weirdo.
But this is who I am and I may never feel okay. I may never feel better, I can only move forward as I am, incomplete with a giant gaping hole in the center of my soul that cannot be filled no matter how often I try to stuff it full of things—things like men, or women, or pills, or booze. I’ve tried to fill myself up with enough of these but it’s never enough.
I fall in love quickly and I give myself completely. I think that’s why it hurts so badly when it ends, and I usually end it. I show a little more of myself to my partners every day and the more they see, the more I’m scared that they’ll fear me. I try to tell them that my paranoia comes from a place of experience; that I hurt people because when I don’t get enough space and that when someone hurts me I shut down completely.
My ex-boyfriend would hover over me and push me when we argued. When I’d ask for space, for a minute to collect myself, he’d push me and refuse to leave. He even refused to believe me when I broke up with him. He said no. He said I couldn’t. He forced his presence on me when all I craved was his absence.
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My ex-girlfriend would jab her finger in my face and tell me something was wrong with me. Everything was wrong with me, everything was my fault and she’d tell me how to live. I’d eventually snap at her, and at my ex-boyfriend. I’d shout and fight and say terrible things…spiteful things just to get them to shut up and back away. I needed room to breathe so I shut others out.
I find solace in being alone but this can be difficult to express to a partner. It’s hard to ask someone to leave. No matter how eloquently I ask. I cannot give a reason why, because I do not know the answers. Some days I’m just sad and everything sucks. Days of sadness turn into weeks. And other times the sadness just ends, with no clear reason. I need time to reflect, to decompress and process my feelings. Often times I just need the quiet contemplation in order to calm down and breath. I journal and take some relaxing deep breaths so that I can continue in a more calm and rational fashion.
If I don’t have space, I throw the dishes that I am washing across the room and listen to them shatter against the wall and this is when my ex-boyfriend’s screaming stops. He changes gears and tells me that I’m crazy. I walk away in silence, with a sense of relief from that shattering, and pick up the broken shards of plates and cups. My fingers bleed. As the blood runs down my fingers I smile because the pain is a relief from the pain in my head. My ex finally leaves and I clean up in silence and feel calm for a moment.
I’ve come to a place in my life where the peace of solitude has consumed me. I don’t want to disturb it so I stay single. I spend most of my time alone and while some may find that sad or hard to understand it is what I need in order to function. I prefer myself this way, without the chaos or provocation. It’s safer for me, and it’s safer for others.
My emotions often get the best of me. I’m controlled by my anxiety and my ever-changing moods. The ability to go from high to low multiple times in one day is exhausting. There’s too many me’s in a day. I wake up tired, but usually in a decent mood, and get my children off to school. Somedays I feel good about myself, others I loathe my entire existence. Everything is of the greatest effort, even moving my body feels like a challenge. But, suddenly I can get burst of energy or excitement if something positive comes my way, it never lasts long though. The depression always wins. The darkness always takes over.
These are the thoughts that will turn in my head as I work at my job and make dinner for my family. These are the true thoughts that hide behind my happy smile and friendly eyes. My true self weeps internally. She feels too much and sometimes not enough; it’s tiring trying to make sense of a world she doesn’t understand.
I am thirty-six years old, I have two children and I’m a full time student, I’m just starting my Masters of Clinical Mental Health program, and I work in a daycare. From the outside I look like any other daycare provider and mother, my children love me and I adore them. It looks sunny and rosy from outside.
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The first time I saw a psychologist I was sixteen years old. They diagnosed me with major depressive disorder. At eighteen, I had my first suicide attempt, another followed at age nineteen. I was consumed by depression and was self-medicating through drugs and alcohol. When the self-medicating didn’t work the only relief I could find was the thought of ending my life. I wanted the pain to stop. Afterwards I used drugs for several years. It was the only way I handled my emotions. This changed when I found out I was pregnant with my first child. Then I could no longer use drugs to ease my pain. At thirty-two I finally got a full psych evaluation and a diagnosis of bipolar they initially called it an “unspecified mood disorder”, which scared the crap out of me. However, the more I’ve learned in school the more the diagnoses make sense. I’m just now starting to embrace it as part of who I am.
I spent most of my life denying mental illness and fully embracing my rage. I fought against authority, my mother, and injustices around me. A lot of people called me crazy or bipolar and I pressed against that terminology. It angered me so deeply that I acted out violently—getting into fist fights regularly, going to jail for fighting, drinking and using drugs. I fancied myself a vigilante at times, being the bully of the bullies. The fighting, the raging and the release of pent-up-aggressions were something I thrived in. I put a racist girl in the hospital for calling my friend the N-word and I didn’t even bat an eyelash. I was so puffed up on righteousness I fully believed she deserved it, that her cruel words justified my physical violence. I was completely out of control, but the violence was such a release for me that I didn’t care how it affected others.
Now, as a mother, I am horrified by my past actions and no longer have the release that my previous behavior had provided for me. I sought therapy and it awakened something in me that I never knew was there. I lived in a world of anger, rage, and lust for vengeance against those who hurt me and those I love.
What I found, with my counselor, was that all of that rage and fury were hiding my sadness—a deep, searing sadness that plagued me since a very young age; sadness for the little girl from the broken, abusive home, a little girl who saw her mother brutalized and beaten, who, at times, was beaten herself. Sadness for the innocence lost by rape. Sadness for the child who had to grow up too fast. Sadness for the child who had to be strong even when she felt weak. My attitude of being the savior of others began at a young age and at times I’d fight against my mother’s abusers trying to protect her, even as far as, once pulling a gun on a man to get him away from her. I was sixteen years old and holding a hunting rifle pointed at my step-father, telling him to get out of my home. That sadness festered and spread through me like wildfire. It consumed me and when I couldn’t take anymore, it would burst forth like a volcano erupting: violent and unforgiving.
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There were times when I would go through what I now know as rapid cycling, one minute I could be laughing and having a good time and in an instant I would shake the very earth with my rage. I’ve laughed while being punched in the face and cried when I should be laughing. I’ve lived most of my life feeling as if I were possessed by something otherworldly, like something inside me just wasn’t right. I also experience horribly long episodes of depression—depression that lasts for weeks. Depression that dims the entire world in muted shades of gray. Everything hurt and no one understood.
I’m not suicidal. Though I have been, in the past, before I had kids. I tried and nearly succeeded twice. But then my children came along and saved me from that threat. I could never leave them. I will never hurt them that way. I would not want them to be raised by their abusive, manipulative and drug addicted father. He scares me more than anything. To this very day, though it’s been six years since I was with him. There were times when he’d hit me in front of the kids, punch me when I was driving a car with the kids in the back seat, whip me with a computer charger. I raged and fought against him, as I have everything else in my life. When he hit me I hit him back and things escalated.
I’ve thought about dying every single day since I was a teenager. It’s in my every waking thought, not the act of hurting myself, or wanting to make a plan to do so, but the idea of dying itself- the eternal silence and peace. These are things I cannot talk about, things I dare not even tell my therapist because if a sick person mentions death it’s “to the hospital with her.” I don’t want to die, not anymore. I want to live, and I want to raise my children to be the best men that they can be.
Since I’m no longer with my children’s father I’ve changed my life for the better and I barely recognize that person anymore. Talking helps me. Even writing these words down for you is a form of release. I cannot let things build up. They consume me when they do and it eats away at me and then I snap over the slightest trespass. My medications have also improved my mood.
I haven’t been to therapy in two years but lately I’ve been struggling with some dark depression. Two days ago I called and made an appointment. See, there is no cure for bipolar depression there is only ways to manage living with it. I think that a combination of medications, psychotherapy, and creative expression are the best ways for me to stay as sane as I possibly can. Like Dickens so eloquently wrote, in David Copperfield, I’m not sure “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else,” but either way, the tides are changing and things ahead are starting to look clearer. I’m going back to therapy, and I’ve changed my meds. I’m just going to keep living, one day at a time.