Bipolar. The word glared at me from on the paper and felt hot in my hands. Bipolar? No, not me. I just have mood swings. This can’t be right—but it was.
It took 27 years to get a diagnosis and the right order of medication, but I was here I had the answer, so why was I suddenly ashamed?
Bipolar seems to be a hot-button topic for people, there is a lot of misinformation and judgment out there. Jokes are made about it on TV and in movies. I come from a long line of family members who were taught to hide their mental illness, hide their differences, and lock the doors on their trauma. It would have been easy to shut out my feelings and just “deal with it” as the generations before were instructed to do. But I choose better. I choose happiness and health over judgment.
It started when I was young, my dad frequently told me I “felt big emotions” and didn’t know how to handle them. I would go from being happy to being sad within seconds and spent a lot of time in what I now know are manic episodes. I acted out, I was impulsive, and I had extremely low moments. At the time, my therapist blamed it on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from the sexual abuse I experienced, and they could have been right at that moment, but as I got into adulthood things got worse.
I became terrible with money; I’d save and save and then suddenly I would have a manic moment and spend $1,000 dollars or more in a weekend shopping for the thrill I got from giving gifts or getting new things myself. I began to act out sexually, I cheated on multiple partners and sought out validation during my lows, and just wanted the pleasure of it during my highs. I began battling self-harm issues in the lows, too. I frequently self-injured where I thought no one would see—which included skin-picking. Picking never seemed like self-harm to me until a therapist brought it to my attention and stated, “If you are doing something that causes injury to yourself on purpose, it’s self-harm. Many of us do this daily, we pick at our nails, we pick at our faces, and sometimes we pick at old wounds on our bodies. Something to distract us from the pain inside.”
Only those of us with Bipolar can truly fathom the manic high that comes with an episode. An easy way for me to describe it is as if I woke up and it’s suddenly Christmas morning and I am eight years old again. I feel a sense of excitement and am overjoyed. Rather quickly though, I lose touch with reality and I do things out-of-character that don’t make sense. I will strike up a conversation with a stranger at a bar or I will have the urge to do some home improvement I have zero business doing. It’s the highs that make the entire ordeal bearable.
I feel like superwoman, but it never lasts. A manic high is always followed by a manic low.
Most people familiar with depression will understand the lows. I stop eating, I start sleeping all the time, and I lose a sense of purpose. Gone is the vibrant colorful Meg who just made a million friends and repainted her bathroom, here now is morose Meg who doesn’t shower and can’t run a brush through her hair.
To be quite blunt, it was intolerable and I felt like I couldn’t get out of it. But there’s always a way out.
As many millennials will remember, Dumbledore once said to Harry, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” The light. I felt inspired and found myself in the light of multiple doctor’s offices and on therapy couches discovering answers to questions I thought would remain a mystery. Along with Bipolar Disorder, we also found ADHD, PTSD, and anxiety. All of these are being treated by effort, medicine, and therapy. I say “effort” because it takes a lot of work to keep yourself sane, I am a testament to that.
Times can be hard, frustrating, and confusing, but you can always turn on the light, my friend. I spent years in the dark but with the light on (and through years of treatment), I feel stronger, truly happy, and excited for whatever comes next.
Your diagnosis is not the end of your story. You are capable of living with bipolar disorder. Healing is still possible. We encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.