A Fractured Journey: Feeling the Throes of Bipolar Disorder Before Diagnosis
Listen to Editor in Chief Gabriel Nathan read this story:
I don’t remember much of what happened, just quick flashes and foggy details. The rest is redacted. I was only six, seven, or eight. I know I was taken to a rowboat by a teenage or young adult man and paddled out to a private part of a lake where I was forced down toward the floor of the boat. My next memory after that, or perhaps it was a separate memory, is being in the forest beside the lake and wiping myself off. The laughs of two or three teenaged or young adult males. I don’t remember what they were saying or doing. I remember they smelled like they hadn’t bathed in awhile. That dirty bum smell. They lived in the trailer park where my mom and I lived. I remember JC was one of them and the others might have been his older brothers? I don’t remember how I got there. I don’t blame myself or anyone else, other than them. I don’t think I ever told my mom about it, but she must have known something was wrong. I often wonder if she’s holding guilt about that and other things that happened to me when I was a kid. I sometimes wonder if what happened was just a dream. I can’t remember the details that I don’t want to remember. If I remember what happened maybe I could deal with it and move on. That blank part of my memory is the scourge of my time here. If I could get it back I could try to forgive and move on.
Once upon a time there was a man who felt like he didn’t deserve happiness, so he sabotaged everything and lived in misery until he died. Wonderful things happened to him, wonderful people came into his life. He turned that wonder to misery and ended up alone and afraid. The happy ending does not exist.
Once upon a time there was a man who lived a happy life, loved by many. This man was able to find peace in his life. He didn’t ruminate on his decisions and instinctively knew what to say and do to find happiness. He was a born leader who was able to inspire people and himself. Everything he set out to do in his life, he did with hard work and passion. The happy ending does exist.
I’m wallowing in the misery of being alive, a selfish idiot who only cares about himself and isn’t able to make even the simplest choices in order to feel better. I should be able to allow those around me to feel my positive energy instead of this sick, miserable, wallowing negativity. Why can’t I just be happy?
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How many times can I fuck up before I give up? I want to crawl into a hole and die. I feel like the world’s biggest failure and I have no purpose on this earth other than to screw things up and make things worse. The only thing keeping me here is my family and friends, and I’m not even sure they’d miss me at this point. I am such a waste of space and I want to die. I feel like I am crafting something dramatic here, so someone else can read this and help me. I am fucked and I don’t know how to fix myself. I can feel the weight of depression pinning me down and rubbing my face in the dirt. I don’t know what to do.
I’m feeling a bit better. The medication dulls my emotions and I don’t have the same urges to disappear. My head constantly aches from stress, but feelings of worthlessness fade through the day. It’s always the hardest when I first wake up. The morning walk helps to distract me, but when I come home it hits me hard. What am I doing with my life? Where am I going? What was I put here to do? What is my purpose? I can’t do the simplest of things to keep myself occupied. Looking at job postings is torture because I know I can’t bring myself to do anything. It feels like I’m on a planet full of people who all have jobs and purposes while I wander around with no reason for being here. Regular life distracts me, but then I sit here, aimless, while everyone else is working. The answers aren’t getting clearer, I’m not looking for them.
I know the answers, but I’m still not coming any closer to finding them. I have a bunch of options, but all of them involve doing something.
I have had a problem with rumination for as long as I can remember. When I try to make a decision I freeze. It could be whether to start a new career or what to make for dinner, either way I freeze in my tracks. That’s a constant in my life. I’m acutely familiar with the concept of flytraps. But if a friend reaches out to me to go for a walk, I spring into action. I don’t have to think, I just do.
I can often use a serious jolt. I’ve read about electroconvulsive therapy to reboot the brain, but isn’t that a little extreme? My counselor says I have “situational depression” and electricity coursing through my body doesn’t sound like proper treatment. But, still, a shock could shake me loose.
Maybe I’m shutting down after so many years of moving so fast. I’ve been going hard since I was fourteen and spent years writing and editing for more music magazines than I can recall right now. I held down full-time jobs at newspapers that stretched way into overtime, helped to raise four kids, booked punk shows and ran a punk mail-order/distribution company. All happening at the same time. The amount of work I used to do on a daily basis amazes me now. How did I get it all done? So many projects, so many ideas. Busy work, typing, data entry, writing and editing for twelve hours a day, packaging up all of those music orders for the mail order. All of it, every single day. Morning to evening, then again at night. No peace of mind, never for long at least.
Now I’m here and it’s just me, myself and I. Sitting at a keyboard and failing to rid myself of this infection. This busy life that stuck with me for decades and feels impossible to shake. Did years and years of overworking myself and letting stress consume me put me deep in this hole? If I slow down too much, will I be eaten alive or survive the mauling?
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Trying to clear my mind. Most thoughts are past or future, where I trap myself. Either I regret the past or worry about the future. Present is real life. Things are happening right now that deserve my attention. Things will make me happy again, but I am too blind to see them. Smiles feel nice. This is proven. Worry doesn’t feel good. This is proven. How do I calibrate myself to maximum enjoyment? Running away on fancy vacations? Following punk bands around on tour? Burying myself in another job so I can justify doing these things on my vacations? Maybe I need to figure out that happiness bit first.
Maybe I’m “getting better.” It feels like I could be, but honestly I have no idea at this point. I am completely exhausted from months of worry and stress. I wake up every day hit with overwhelming anxiety and depression. My first thoughts are usually about the dread of another day or how soon I can go back to bed. The anxiety makes my heart jump at everyday sounds and movements. The depression feels like a pile of chainmail thrown over me. I’m stumbling through a fog of emotional pain. Loneliness, vulnerability, guilt, shame, remorse, sadness, boredom, a general sense of negativity. The forced smile on my face crushed by a blood-curdling scream of “why won’t anyone fucking help me.” When you see me laugh, please cherish it, because I can’t.
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Maybe I’m meant to be a nobody. An unspoken hero, even. Someone who goes to work, doesn’t stress, then goes home and lives a peaceful life. People remember the person, not the things they do. Is that true? If I can be who I’ve always wanted to be—a stable husband, father, brother, son, friend—maybe what I do isn’t as important as the person I am. Maybe the things I do are just a bonus. Maybe anything extra is just the icing, and maybe that icing doesn’t have to be sickly sweet. Maybe I’m meant to help people out when they need it, stick up for what is right, and spend time with and put effort into people that deserve it. Maybe being a “nobody” is the goal. For so many years, I have put value on what people think of me, what my status means to those around me. I’ve had a fear of abandonment and being harmed since the abuse and I’ve spent my whole life trying to please others instead of taking care of myself. I’m finally ready to be that “nobody” who only wants to be known as a “somebody” to the ones I love. That starts with myself.
Yesterday I found out that I have bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression. Thinking back, this explains a lot. Reading back on my writing, it becomes clear. A lot of what I wrote had depression and mania peeking through, cries for help from between the lines. When I was depressed, my writing was dark, seen through a lens of despair. When I was manic I ecstatically pounded on my keyboard, everything was awesome. Knowing what I’ve been living with all of these years explains a lot of my struggles, but that comes with mixed feelings and uncertainty. But I’m used to that. I think back on my life and I can’t rub away all of my bad decisions or shameful behavior, but I can find ways to explain them. My diagnosis has opened pathways in my brain. Clarity may be just what my decades of confusion need. I feel like writing something like, “Wish me luck on this incredible journey,” but that feels way too optimistic, and super cheesy.
Once upon a time there was a man who lived with bipolar. He’ll be happy to take an ending with mixed results.