I was 16 when I was diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder.
At first, my doctor just thought I was struggling with PTSD due to the passing of my best friend by suicide. I sat in her office, and stared at the painted clouds on her light blue walls. I could hear her and my dad exchanging words.
“This is a classic case of post-traumatic stress disorder.”
“No, I don’t want her on Xanax. I don’t want her to get addicted.”
“What’s an SSRI? What does that mean?”
“It’ll help her.”
“Will it help her function? She doesn’t get out of bed. I have to physically drag her to school.”
All I could do was stare at the clouds, wishing that I could climb on one of them and sleep, while it carried me far away.
An hour later, I walked out of her office with my dad and a script for Zoloft.
After about three weeks, I actually started to feel better. Five weeks in, I started feeling a little empty, and emotionless. Six weeks in, and I felt no better than a zombie.
I’m not sure when the mania started happening. I think I first noticed something was wrong when I failed to sleep for 72 hours without being tired, and after, slept for what felt like days to try and combat the exhaustion. Then came the racing thoughts and the irritability, the impulsivity. Then came the scariest part—the hallucinations.
I was so afraid to tell anyone. I was afraid that they’d think I had lost it. It had been a month since my friend had died, wasn’t I supposed to be better? What will people think? What will my friends think? My parents? My family? Will my little sister be afraid to be around me?
So, I hid it. I hid the impulsiveness. I hid the thoughts of self-harm. I hid the hallucinations.
I hid it well until one day, my friend found me talking to myself beside my best friend’s grave.
“Chandler, who are you talking to?”
“Can’t you see them?”
“All the people. Can’t you hear them talking to me?”
The next step was to be evaluated at an inpatient mental health facility. I sat with the doctors. I told them the whole truth. They asked about my friend. They asked about the medicine. They asked about the hallucinations.
I quickly learned that you need to pair an SSRI with a mood stabilizer when someone has Bipolar disorder. Otherwise, it’ll cause your mania to be out of control. So I left there with the right medicine, and a determination to get better.
I battle my mental illness every single day that I decide to get up out of bed. It takes some of my toughest soldiers to make sure I take care of myself: making sure I’ve eaten, taken my medicine, and had a shower. Some days it takes every ounce of energy that I have to take a breath. Some days my impulsiveness takes over, and I say things I don’t mean. Sometimes I spend too much money. But, I’m learning.
My best advice to someone dealing with a mental illness is this: figure out what helps you the most. For me, it’s a routine weekly checkup with my therapist and a monthly checkup with my psychiatrist. It’s taking my medication every single day, as directed. It’s knowing that if I wake up depressed, I need to force myself up and get in the shower, even if it’s just to crawl back into bed. It’s making sure I eat every day, three times a day. Going to bed at the same time every night, getting up the same time every morning. Training myself not to be so impulsive. Knowing not to listen to sad music, or watch a sad movie when I’m depressed. Knowing who to call if I start having dark thoughts.
Treating your mental illness is a personal journey. It would be naïve to say that people’s journeys are the same. We all feel differently, we all experience varying emotions. Maybe we share a diagnosis, but what works for me may not work for you. You have to find your balance, and you have to love yourself in order to consciously make the decision to do the things that help you.
Life is often a battle. No matter what way you look at it. And learning to live with a mental illness makes it a whole lot tougher, but the truth is: you have the ability to win. So keep fighting—we need you here.