(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 I would personally add to that description that I was really withdrawn and scared often but pretended my very best that I was mature and capable.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 years.

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.