Is This What Normal Feels Like? Finding the Right Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
Listen to Executive Director Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:
I’ve been getting these energy bursts quite often the past few days. I can walk around all day proud like a peacock and feel like anything and everything is possible. After feeling down for a few weeks, I welcome this high mood in relief.
I turned fourteen this summer, I’m not a little girl anymore. I can do all kinds of adult stuff like drinking and smoking. Now we’re on a school trip and I’m so excited! We’re walking in caves and I’m laughing. I have so much energy I could conquer the world! Yesterday, I kept on talking and wriggling in class and my teacher couldn’t calm me down. She was shouting at me; how funny! The blood is boiling through my veins, I can’t focus on what my friend is saying. I want to dance, dance! I want to be happy! I can be happy. “You’re such a joker,” my friends say.
My mind is spiraling. I can’t focus on one thing. A thought chases after thought, and another one and another. All of them pass in fast motion and then crash inside with a huge blow-up. I can feel the flames burning me. As if they were alive. It’s such a weird sensation. I’m excited, I feel alive, all the colors are brighter, they even speak to me, but at the same time I feel it’s too much to handle as I can’t control these thoughts. I need to race after them and it’s a bit exhausting. I can’t keep up with my words.
It’s all colors and rainbows until I suddenly get angry. These rich impulses are still there but now everything is pissing me off and my head is pounding. Teenage hormones, I guess. I just want to lie in my bed and hide myself from everyone. As I finally get home, that’s what I do.
When I open my eyes, darkness is slapping me with its cold hand. Fast and hard as if I was being punished. I try to breathe, save myself, but the hitting gets even more violent, the bitter taste of tears and blood lingers on my lips. I think that it’s just another nightmare, and if I close my eyes it will stop. But it doesn’t. A wave of dirty, sticky gloom washes all over my body and walls of quicksand are tightening around me. I try to scream, but my voice disappears into the void. There’s no one to hear my outcry. There’s only the grinning darkness. A cruel laughter echoing in my ears. Another victim is captured in her sack of no tomorrow.
Despite being so tired, I can’t sleep. The punching continues, but I’m not fighting it anymore. I’m lying on the bed with my eyes wide open. Tired, sad, and scared.
My mother tells me to get up. School starts in one hour. I should put on a bit of makeup to hide those bruises and dark circles under my eyes. Suddenly everything seems so complicated… and hard? Going to the bathroom, taking a shower, brushing my teeth, looking in the mirror. It’s like every ordinary activity is beyond my strength. I feel as if I was running a marathon or pushing the rock up the hill. I’m so tired and the day hasn’t even started yet. It’s not my first time on the depression rodeo but it’s never felt this hard. In the past, I was able to function.
10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Hell at school.
It’s when all those stupid questions start: “What’s wrong with you?”, “Why aren’t you smiling?”
We’re on the playground, the sun is shining and the fall is celebrating its beauty in all the shades of orange and yellow. My friends won’t stop bitching. “You were so happy just yesterday, laughing, with a million ideas and all hyped. What happened?”
How the hell should I know?
My teacher is also asking me why I’m suddenly so sad. “I’m okay,” I insist. What else is there to say? That my world is collapsing, that every minute brings me pain like a thousand pieces of glass cutting my skin? That every part of my body hurts? That my heart is being ripped off and slowly becoming a stone? No, how could I? I’ll find out soon enough that the adults can’t understand it, they will all tell me I’m insane or selfish. Or “get your shit together, stop feeling sorry for yourself.” Guess what? It doesn’t help. It only fires up my anger against all your rules.
Without realizing the consequences, I start to babble on about death and suicide. What a stupid yet tempting idea. I guess this is how it all starts. School and home feel like hell from now on. Constant monitoring from parents, teachers, even my friends. Dropping grades, getting in trouble after being drunk a few times. Fighting with everyone. And all those stupid questions about why I want to kill myself.
For a while my friends stand by my side, they give me concerned looks, motivational talks and warm hugs which I push away. I have some dignity, after all, I’m not some lost puppy who needs to be saved. They try to get to me because they think it’s a temporary melancholy of an artist, and they don’t understand that the old me is already gone. It feels like the new me will never be able to love back. Like it’s the beginning of indifference and cruelty towards every person who will show me some kind of affection. And that there’s no way back from this.
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The slow, painful process of killing myself every day takes me two years. Everyone gives up on me. I don’t blame them. And then the moment of escaping the dark claws of still undiagnosed illness (I call it “pain of existence,” but there’s nothing really poetic about it) finally comes. It’s the end of the middle school year, and soon my classmates will start high school. A new period of life for them. Perfect ending for me.
I don’t hesitate when I swallow 50 antidepressants. I made peace with inevitable fate, I left goodbye letters even though I don’t believe that anyone will care.
I lose consciousness for some time. When I finally open my eyes, the familiar scent of rotting surroundings hits my numb senses. Am I still alive?
My friend calls me in the morning, I can barely speak, I’m out of it, but I tell her about my suicide attempt. She comes over and I’m pretty sure she talks about it with my father.
But there’s no fall out. They don’t rush me to the ER. They don’t lock me up in a mental institution. It’s like… it never happened. And I carry on with my miserable life.
Current, adult life.
I didn’t know what was going on with me then. They—my parents, teachers, friends didn’t know either. We were all scared. I was only 14 and I already felt like my life was over.
Maybe, if anyone back then figured out it was a mental illness it would have been different. I would have gotten professional help and I wouldn’t have done all those terrible things to myself. I wouldn’t have to live with shame for… the rest of my life? Or maybe they would have put me in a psychiatric hospital, labelled me as insane, I would have run away, become a junkie, ended up on the street selling myself to disgusting pervs. I would have never seen a different world. I would have been defeated.
I used to deal with my emotions by writing. Because when you write about it, you externalize it. You’re more focused on yourself and your feelings and how they work. You can understand yourself a bit better. Poetry and stimulants were my only escape.
I try not to think about it anymore. I can’t change the past, but I wish it was only something that happened to me a long time ago. I wish I could forget and move on. Instead, I have to live with this illness every day. Sometimes I think that nothing has really changed. I’m a grown-up, yes, but my inner forgotten child keeps stumbling in blackness, searching for the purpose.
Today, when I look back at this young, lost girl I want to hug her, I want to cry with her. I wish I could tell her “it will get easier, but you have to keep running up that hill.” House said that hope is for sissies, my cynical nature agrees with that. But when you’re drowning you won’t be able to save yourself. You need a life ring. From someone.
After a roller coaster of addictions, putting myself in dangerous situations, hurting myself and others, not being able to maintain any kind of relationship, poisoning myself with antidepressants (which I can’t take as they induce mania), I finally got diagnosed with bipolar disorder type II.
It was a relief of some sort. But then I got scared. Now I’m really mental. It wasn’t just a rebellious phase. It’s serious. I’ll have to be medicated for the rest of my life to balance my extreme mood swings.
Finding the right meds combo was another battle. Turns out, I’m allergic to mood stabilizers. I even landed in a hospital with a very serious rash. But a few months ago I started new treatment and for the first time in my life, I’m calm. Thanks to my meds, I no longer suffer from anger bursts and million thoughts per second. My days are no longer covered in shadows of sadness. I guess that’s what normal feels like?
I feel strong, even optimistic, ready to fight for my better future. Now it’s easier to believe that I can make it. That it’s not too late for me, and all those people who thought less of me can go f*** themselves because I will become Someone. And I don’t mean survival. I mean being a successful writer who will have the freedom of choice. Where to live, where to travel. To be a better person?
I’m still learning how to live with bipolar disorder. As cliché as it sounds, every day is still a battle and I have to remind myself of my purpose – to not just survive but to thrive.
Back then I found myself surrounded by a crowd of people—parents, friends, teachers. I believe some of them cared deeply about me and wanted to help but I wouldn’t accept it. I thought my life was over and didn’t want to try and get it back. Others were just interested in gossiping about me.
Despite all that attention, I felt very alone. Out of my mind. Scared. I’m not sure if they didn’t know how to help me or just didn’t see the real me. That lost vulnerable child. Not an insane, rebellious teenager who drinks and takes drugs.
What’s in the past, I put it to rest. I found a cure on my own.
I am a fighter after all.