My Whirlwind Brain; Living with Bipolar Disorder, Depression, and Anxiety
by Stacey Praninskas
I’m a thirty-seven-year-old woman who was diagnosed with bipolar, depression, and anxiety at the age of twenty-two. As I look back on my life I can remember feeling anxious throughout my childhood. I grew up in a good home with loving parents, but my anxiety persisted. I would focus on one specific moment and have obsessive thoughts. If I saw my friends outside playing without me, my heart would begin to race. A million thoughts moved through my head at one time, spinning around like a tornado. “Why didn’t they invite me to play? What did I do wrong? What didn’t I do? Do they not like me?”
Once I hit high school I felt something deeper was wrong but I told myself that the way I was feeling was not out of the ordinary for a teenage girl. I constantly worried about being accepted by my friends and classmates. I convinced myself that the intense stress I experienced was related to the pressures of high school, I didn’t take into consideration it was something more.
In my sophomore year of high school, I started hanging out with a “bad crowd.” I dropped good friends and broke up with a great guy so I could be with the bad boy in school. I liked the challenge of getting his attention. There was something appealing about his persona; he didn’t seem to have a care. I didn’t mind that I was not being treated with respect from him. I didn’t think I deserved respect. This was the beginning of my low self-esteem.
One day, I was driving around with this guy smoking cigarettes. The next day, he was escorted out school by police for bringing a gun into the building. My parents discovered that I had been spending time with him and forbade me from seeing him again. I fought with my parents trying to convince them he was a good guy and that someone else had put the gun in his locker. I was lying to my parents so I could continue spending time with him.
Reflecting back now, I hadn’t felt fear at the time about spending time with this student who brought a gun to school. I honestly don’t know why this didn’t scare me. I liked spending time with him because I was physically attracted to him and he paid attention to me. I craved attention, good or bad, it didn’t matter.
I went through two counselors, I would lie in counseling, making it seem like my parents were just over protective. I didn’t share the ways I’d been feeling with the counselor. I desperately longed for my independence. Both counselors expressed to my parents that I was acting like a normal sixteen-year-old girl and that there was nothing to worry about. If I had been honest with the counselors about the way I was truly feeling I believe they would have seen a greater issue.
A few years after high school, into my second year at my local community college I met a guy that worked in a local car shop and we hit it off. For the next four years we were together, but he broke up with me numerous times. If we had an argument he wanted to be the one who “won” but I never backed down, so he would break up with me. One time he broke up with me because he said I was gaining weight. There was another time that he started hanging out with his ex-girlfriend and wasn’t sure what he wanted so he broke up with me. I started skipping classes and calling out of work often due to our late night fights. I felt as though I physically could not get out of bed in the morning. I was so depressed, my whole body ached.
One day after an argument my boyfriend told me he was leaving. He got into his car, and I quickly jumped into mine to chase him. We drove all around town. I began speeding faster to catch up to him. I wasn’t paying attention to my driving because all I could think about was not losing him. At one point my car swerved off the road but by some miracle I was able to gain control. I continued following him, all the way to his house where we stood in the driveway and fought for an hour. He went inside and locked the door, so I drove home, crying hysterically. I felt lost without him.
Eventually, despite our tumultuous relationship, my boyfriend proposed to me. I was relieved and thought this new commitment would mean he wouldn’t leave again. But I was wrong, about five months before our wedding he broke it off again, but this time for good.
I felt like my life was ruined without him in it. I would cry to the point that I became physically sick. Instead of isolating myself as I had in the past. I went out with friends every night of the week to distract myself and drank heavily. I picked up guys left and right and slept with them. I was sleeping with guy friends, I was even sleeping with the bartender at my favorite bar. I was trying to keep my mind off my ex. I didn’t care that I was acting recklessly. A few months after my breakup I met another guy at a party. I drunkenly went home with him and slept with him. The difference with this guy is he called me the next day and asked me to go out on a date.
About two weeks into dating, he asked me to move in, which I did. I didn’t worry about moving too fast. We dated for two years and in the beginning it was good but things took a turn. I accused him of cheating and I would keep him up arguing all night. I questioned his love for me and feared he would leave me like my ex-fiance did. He was an alcoholic and the combination of that and my undiagnosed disease caused our relationship to be tumultuous.
One night he locked me out of our apartment because we had a fight earlier in the night about his drinking. I didn’t have my keys and we were on the second floor. I climbed onto a post of a deck that was attached to the building across the alley. I climbed the pillar of the deck and pulled myself up to get onto the roof of the building next door to our building. I jumped from the roof of the building next door, across the alley to the small platform outside our window. I opened the window and climbed into our apartment. I felt unstoppable, like I could do anything. If I could make this jump I could go inside and win this fight I was going to start.
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I woke up my boyfriend and we sat up all night, fighting. My heart was racing and I spoke quickly. I felt agitated but also had a newfound energy. I didn’t need any sleep. After this incident, similar behavior occurred often. I started calling out of work because I would be exhausted from the night of fighting. Over the years I lost a few jobs because of this cycle.
Finally, we got into one of the worst fights we ever had. I had recently been in a deep depression and he was drinking everyday and coming home late at night drunk. In our fight he was trying to end the relationship and I was fighting for it. The next morning I told him I didn’t feel right and I need to go to the hospital. I was in panic mode. He called my parents who met us at the hospital. My parents called my therapist who strongly recommended I be hospitalized at a mental health facility.
When I first came to the hospital a psychiatrist sat down with me and asked me a series of questions, some of which were about my past relationships and my sexual past. Later he explained that hypersexual desires are a symptom of bipolar. He also asked me about my feelings and my thought process on decisions I’ve made in life. He then explained another symptom of bipolar was the feeling of indestructible and engaging in dangerous activities. The more he talked the more I began to feel validated in my experiences. That is how he diagnosed bipolar. From the day I met my psychiatrist, I was able to be honest with my experiences and figure out what happened.
It’s been fifteen years of going to therapy, learning about my disease and learning how to cope. It’s been a whirlwind with medication to see what will work together, trying different dosages, reducing side effects. I have had setbacks over the last fifteen years; I’m not going to lie. I even had a second hospital stay about six years ago because I had stopped taking my medication because I was feeling “better.” I have learned that I do need my medication no matter how I’m feeling.
About a year after that last hospital my mom was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer that had spread to her liver. I was devastated; throughout my life my mother had been there for me and fought for me every step of the way throughout my battle. Before we came to my diagnoses we had no idea what was wrong and my mom never gave up on me. I knew now I had to take care of her so I took on the role as the caregiver. I always thought in the back of my head once my mom is gone I’ll probably lose it and end back up in the hospital. But I worked closely with my psychiatrist and we monitored my health very closely. After my mom passed away I did not go into a downward spiral like I was predicting. I felt guilt for all I had put my parents through while growing up but my dad told me that my mom loved me very much and was so proud of me. At that moment I told myself that I was going to continue down this road of making my mom proud even if she was not there to see it.
Near the end of my mom’s life I met an amazing man to share my life with who has a lot of compassion for me and understanding of all of my different moods. The difference with this relationship and my past relationships is that I have a clearer mind and am able to be open and honest with him about how I’m feeling. He even picks up on little signs when I’m not feeling my best. He has learned to help me cope with many obstacles I go through from time to time. I do feel that I’m not as hypersexual as I have been in the past because I feel secure in my relationship and I do not feel that I need to hide my feelings about sex. We have been together three and a half wonderful years, we bought a house, got married and thirteen months ago we welcomed our amazing and beautiful son.
I was so excited when finding out I was pregnant but I was also terrified because my psychiatrist told me I would have to wean myself off my medication completely over only a couple of weeks. I told him my fears and he asked me to trust him, that a lot of his bipolar patients have gotten pregnant and had been off their medication throughout their pregnancies with no issues. He explained that hormones are different during this time. We would closely monitor my mental health throughout the pregnancy. And we did! I didn’t have anything out of the ordinary occur. I was even able to breastfeed my son for about three weeks after he was born. After the three weeks, I started feeling bad so I spoke to my doctor and I started my medication because I was at even higher risk for postpartum depression. I never thought any of this would be possible for me to achieve with my depression, anxiety and bipolar. I still have hard days but I’m in a place where I’m happy and proud of myself for how far I’ve come.
EDITOR IN CHIEF: Gabriel Nathan | EDITOR: Laura Farrell | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman
See Related Recovery Stories: Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Mental Health First Person Essays