(I would like to add two disclaimers here. First, a content warning as this post is a pretty in depth look at my own mental illness journey. It deals with a lot and it may not be the best reading if you are struggling. I won’t be offended if you can’t read it. Second, this post is simply about part of my own mental health journey and I am going to try my very best to not make judgments or assumptions about anyone else with mental illness, diagnoses or life experiences similar to my own.)
An interesting thing about me is that I
have Bipolar 2 disorder, PTSD, and severe Generalized Anxiety. This
is interesting because for the last 18 years, I have probably been
misdiagnosed with treatment resistant Depression, Agoraphobia, and
Generalized Anxiety. I don’t necessarily blame doctors and therapists
for not catching this sooner. So, let’s take a journey together
through my mental health and all of the complicated twists and turns
it’s been on.
My mom always described me as a
nervous, overly energetic kid that worried too much. I would
personally add to that description that I was really withdrawn and
scared often but pretended my very best that I was mature and
capable. I am not sure about all only children, but the ones I know
the most intimately also talk a lot about trying really hard to be
more grown up than they were capable of from an early age.
My father and many members of my family
have mental illnesses that span a wide range from Depression to
Schizophrenia and more. My father had his own diagnoses of OCD,
Depression, and Generalized Anxiety. Unfortunately, he used
medication, alcohol, and illegal drugs to self-medicate. It was
devastating for my mom and I. My father was capable of something that
I later also became unconsciously capable of – masking his symptoms
and issues. I am sure alcoholism and drug use also helped him do
this, but in reality, he was always in a destructive downward spiral.
It’s hard to accept that you loved
someone deeply but that they were abusive and caused you irreparable
harm. It’s also hard to see the harm because you try really hard to
heal yourself and make better choices. The really important part is
that with mental illness, genetics play a big part and you may not be
able to do all that work on your own. I didn’t understand this for a
long time and just continued to spiral and fall apart too. My father
committed suicide during my first year of college and at the time, I
didn’t recognize the blunt force injury to my mental illnesses until
much later on.
When I first realized that I was sad
and scared all the time, I did try to tell my parents. My father
mocked me and said that it was ‘the human condition’. My mom said
‘people have seasons’. I’m not really mad about it by now, I don’t
have the energy to continue to pour into that. My energy started
becoming really chaotic too. I would be wild, fun, and ready to do so
many new things so often! Then I needed to be away from everyone for
weeks on end and totally silent. I lost track of myself constantly
and became hyper focused on really unattainable goals.
When I started college, about two
months in, I had a real breakdown. I was no longer capable of the
really high academic performance I was used to exacting from myself.
I felt like I was afraid, falling apart everyday, exhausted, and sad
everyday. I also felt like I was looking through a hazy window at
everyone else ‘getting it’. I secretly made an appointment with a
doctor and he was refreshingly kind. He was also probably the first
and last time I was honest about the level of help I needed for a
really long time. I spent a lot of time drinking the kool-aid that I
needed more sunlight, a cleaner diet, more exercise, and a different
mindset to basically erase it all. This basically ended in a wall of
chaos, failure, and my refusing to see anything as my own problem for
The something new happened after I
became a mother. For years, I lived in fear of leaving my house and
took narcotic anxiety meds everyday. They were too much of a
temptation for me, I think. I started drinking with them and was just
a mess. I also started slowly thinking about self-harm. It was never
a thing that I wanted to act on, but I thought about it a lot. That
started to scare me because I started to do things like smash coffee
cups or plates just to destroy something and feel better. Then I
would go back to bed and not function for weeks on end. Unless
suddenly, I had a big burst of energy. Then I would be up all night,
clean all day, we would go places, spend stupid amounts of money, and
I was always starving.
It just never stopped and kept getting
worse. My doctors thought I had treatment resistant Depression
because I didn’t recognize any symptoms of anything bigger as part of
myself. Sure, I was getting worse, but I probably still hadn’t gotten
enough sunshine or green juice yet. A Lot of times when some symptoms
are bigger than others or the patient just doesn’t recognize them,
it’s called masking or masking symptoms. That’s not always something
a doctor can catch onto.
A lot of people with bipolar disorders
go under or misdiagnosed. This is because we may really only
recognize the depression and the lows as problematic, but not really
think the mania is a wrong because ‘Oh gosh, I feel so GOOD again-
even just for a little bit!’ This can be scary because some
medications are really wrong for people who need a mood stabilizer,
not just an anti-depressant. Last fall, my doctor thought the
depression was just getting way too out of hand and we decided to try
a much higher dosage of a med I had some success with. It was
basically like a shot of adrenaline every time I took another pill. I
wasn’t sleeping but I was incredibly energetic and also intensely
suicidal. This made me incredibly afraid.
I had another breakdown but so much
bigger. I voluntarily turned myself in at the hospital and agreed to
be committed when a near fender bender sent me into a panic attack so
strong that I wanted to go home and take every pill I could find. It
was so intense and scary to absolutely not recognize how far I had
fallen and that I needed to leave for a hospital far away to repair.
When I met my psychiatrist and
counselors, we spent a lot of time going over everything I had been
through – more than I could ever cover here in a safe amount of
writing. I told them raw, honest truth about how I had nightmares
every night, how I couldn’t get myself together in any lasting way,
the flip flopping emotions, the panic attacks, the things I have been
through. When they talked to me frankly about bipolar 2 and ptsd, I
nearly cried in relief. When I started my new meds, the adjustment
was slow but life changing and steadying in a way I didn’t even know
was possible for me.
The ironic thing is that I did my
university education in psychology and counseling. I should have seen
myself, right? I should have been able to catch on and get help
sooner – this was my thinking for awhile but I think that humans
cannot always help the blind spots in our self evaluation. Especially
when we have been through a lot of trauma and sadness. It’s like our
brains simply block things from being ‘yet another really bad thing’
and make it ‘hey this is still manageable and not so bad situation’.
Which can be true, but only if you are approaching the situation with
some honesty and clarity.
I’m working with this really great therapist. We do EMDR to work through the PTSD and trauma. We talk a lot to work through the bipolar stuff. We talk about healthy boundaries that make for being a better human. I’m learning that the sunshine and green juice are fine but they aren’t curatives, you know? This won’t ever go away because it’s part of my biological ‘ME’. But the truly important part is how steady and non-destructive I am to myself for the first time in nearly two decades. I feel better because of recognition, honesty, and acceptance.
If you are struggling too, I’m happy to be here for you, my loves. On Facebook, we have created a fantastic group called Will Press Lever for Food or Happiness. It’s about recognition, support, and love for anyone with mental illness. In the meantime, than you for reading along.