Uncovering Hope with Bipolar Disorder - OC87 Recovery Diaries

Uncovering Hope with Bipolar Disorder

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Listen to Executive Director Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in my mid-twenties. I struggled especially during my manic periods, being hospitalised three times. With the help of medication, walking, having a dog, and supportive friends and family I was able to function more acceptably in society. My most recent medication change has helped enliven my passion for writing, art, and yoga. Meds are not the only thing that assists with recovery. By taking off those masks we so often wear in fruitless attempts to make others comfortable, we reveal what mental illness can teach all of us about achieving hope.

My last stay at a psychiatric hospital truly taught me how, through hope, miracles can occur. On one severely manic night, with voices pummeling me relentlessly, I was going to take my nightly bath. As I approached the nurse to ask for permission, (yes, at this facility, we had to ask for permission to bathe) she denied my request, and I lost it. She put her hand on my arm and I screamed, “Don’t touch me!”. The nurse later asserted that I also hit her, but I do not remember this.

I stomped off into the bathroom as she, apparently, called security. I peed in a huff. A security guard approached and asked me what I was doing, I told him I was taking a piss. When I came out, not able to wash my hands, there were two huge men with bulletproof vests and two massive women.

I said, “Don’t touch me, if you touch me I’ll fight back.” I had taken jiu-jitsu as a child so I knew how to defend and protect myself. They started to approach me, all four at once. I prepared myself for battle. I kicked, I punched, and I screamed.

After they grabbed me, they escorted me to the safe room with a shot of an antipsychotic and a powerful sedative. When I woke up, the voices were gone. I told the psychiatrist, and he immediately put me on a different, milder antipsychotic injection. It worked like a charm, voices be gone!

This experience taught me forgiveness: to forgive myself and to appreciate the forgiveness of others when you act in a harmful manner. The guards and the nurses were so kind to me as my mental health began to improve. I also began to believe in miracles again and the psychiatrist, nurses and guards treated me like I was a miracle in progress. It made me realize how lucky I was since I was the only person on the ward getting better.

There can be no hope without the miraculous moments that radically alter your mental health journey. The hope of a new, healthy life brought with it new friends and even more support from my loving family.

My family was concerned, from the very beginning of my breakdown. The onset of the voices proceeded like this:

I woke up and I could hear his voice. It wasn’t a fantasy. I could hear him like he was across the room. What was the matter with me? Then I could hear a whole bunch of other voices, all clamoring discordantly together, each one trying to be the loudest voice in the room… in my head.

There must be something wrong with me. Then I could hear his voice clearly again, on its own. We started to have a conversation. It was like he was in the bed with me.

I strode to the university feeling like I might know something that other people didn’t, all the way hearing people talking when their mouths were closed, and I knew something was different; I was different. After all, not that many people could be ventriloquists.

I wondered if I was hearing their thoughts, but that was impossible. I was twenty-two years old at the time and it certainly was more like having an acid flashback than reading people’s minds.

My parents pleaded for me to come home from university but I refused. I knew I had to finish in order to move on with my life. I knew that, if I didn’t finish university, I would always see myself as a failure. I also had an inkling that, if I allowed myself to leave, I wouldn’t ever be able to go back.

My final essays all had to be turned in late. I could hardly function. I had no money. I thought I was going to become homeless. I thought no one was there for me.

I didn’t have that much food. I would take one slice of bread and smear peanut butter and jam and shred little bits of cheese on top. It would take half an hour to eat my one meal. I lost so much weight while I was manic and would continue these weight fluctuations throughout my mental health struggle.

My grades weren’t the best but, miraculously, I made it on the honour roll. At graduation my dad was so proud; it was one of two times in my life that I saw tears in his eyes. He was so proud of me and I couldn’t appreciate it. I had no emotions, except misery. I tried to smile for the photos. But what a cruel joke those smiles were.

My mom and dad tried everything they could to help me. Their hope was undeniable. My mom was always coming up with solutions or new methods to try. The two most important words my mom gave me were “list” and “routine.” I had a list of enjoyable things I was to complete when I felt down. And every morning I would go through a routine I had compiled. I still do this, but the routine has transformed. My father was so compassionate taking me for drives and having the ability to know just what mood I was in first thing in the morning.

 

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Years of mental illness ensued. Depression in the fall and winter and mania in the spring and summer. The hope of getting better would fade in and out. I realize now, no one is completely well all the time. Life just ain’t like that. We each have struggles we must face. Struggling with grace is something I attempt to do, then we must realize that ultimately, we are all flawed individuals. Major depression is a very humbling experience.

When I was experiencing my deepest depression, I would stay up until about 10 or 11 PM watching ridiculous television. Then I would go to bed, and it was my worst nightmare. My suicidal thoughts were horrendous when I was trying to sleep at night. I had no other thoughts; all I could think of was ending my life.

My one and only suicide attempt happened after an argument. I started shoving pills into my mouth. I was on autopilot. I couldn’t stop. I must have ingested hundreds of different pills. I waited and waited but nothing happened. I felt foolish and called 911.

They were not worried about my mental health, they were concerned about my kidneys. They rushed me to the nearest hospital that specialized in dialysis treatment. They had to cut a hole in the side of my neck so they could treat me. Within hours the tests came back and for some reason my kidneys were operating regularly, before they had even performed the procedure. By some miracle, I would not have to go on dialysis for the rest of my life.

 

  • This suicide attempt was a wake-up call. Did I really want to die or was there still hope? So many people said to me afterwards why didn’t I call them? The psychiatrist I spoke to asked me why I hadn’t asked for help. The truth is there was no help available before this attempt, when I really needed it. Months before I had called the local mental health team and they put me on a waiting list. So how can we shame people for not asking for help, when they have searched for assistance and come up dry.

 

  • Our mental health system, and the health system in general, is so overloaded that it is a wonder that any of us get treated. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact your local or national suicide/crisis lifeline. I did, and since the person on the other end of the phone couldn’t be with me in person she advised me to call 911. A wonderful pair of EMTs arrived and talked me through it. Demand help, if you are in dire need. Hope for help.

 

  • If there is room for hope at all, we have to remember that if those of us who have been deemed mentally ill were in another place, another world, another time we would not be required to take these drugs. Our so-called illnesses would be a gift.

Bipolar is just a word to describe certain tendencies I seem to display. Depression, bipolar, psychosis are words used by the medical community to precisely prescribe medications that are intended to treat each issue.

At this place and time we are insane in Canada. In other cultures, our oddities would be honored and valued, revered and praised.

I take these meds because they make it easier to be here. Being mentally ill is not an acceptable way to behave in society. People get uncomfortable if I’m depressed or manic. They think I should just snap out of it. The auditory hallucinations are a big deal. Hearing voices is totally unacceptable. So, I swallow my medication. I do it for you. To make you more comfortable. Listen to the sound of my voice…

Are you relaxed yet?

We should be winning Oscars for our incredible performances. You know that line, oh you are doing so well! When in actuality you are feeling awful.

We must stay true to ourselves and admit to others that recovery in itself is problematic. We are not recovering, rather we should be uncovering our true selves, with all the trauma, fear and guilt within us. Uncovering is a journey we are on our entire lives. Hope comes through the support of others, and the determination within ourselves.

If you or someone you know may be in crisis or considering suicide, please call, text, or chat the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.

 

​EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | SITE ORIGINATOR: Bud Clayman

 

 

Angela Wise lives with bipolar disorder. She has struggled, but tries to strive towards balance. This is her first publication.