Whatever Happens, I'll Always Have Bipolar
For many people, bipolar is a gross word. A collection of letters with so much meaning and so little understanding. Of course, the disorder is a mental health diagnosis, which can cause mood swings ranging from extreme highs to extreme lows.
Even though I have the condition, I didn't understand it for the longest time. Bipolar belonged to the crazy side of the family—until, of course, I was diagnosed with it. Twice.
Between therapy, recognizing my triggers, validating my life experiences and finding a life of creativity, I've started to realize my bipolar disorder doesn't represent all of who I am.
Once is enough, twice is too much
I don't remember much about when I was diagnosed for the first time as a child. I was beginning to lose interest in everything, and feeling completely worthless. And then, I was sent to a therapist who had the most remarkable purple hair, and who I played Monopoly with. I don't remember the rest except for her enthusiastic willingness to prescribe medication I never ended up taking. She also told my parents I had bipolar disorder, but they ignored and disregarded it.
The second time, I was in college, 21 years old, and found myself in a mental hospital, where I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder again.
I was there for a little more than two months and came out flush with 10 different prescriptions, including one for lithium. In case you don't know, lithium is named after lithos, which is the Greek word for stone. Lithium is described as an anti-mania medicine and prescribed for bipolar disorder, although it's unclear if anyone really knows how it works.
It left me completely numb.
I remember taking a class on the injustices of apartheid in South Africa and I sat there, feeling nothing. I knew there was something wrong with me. With Nelson Mandela's inspirational words ringing in my ears, I decided I needed to take control and change my life.
I stopped taking lithium immediately. I graduated from college a year later, my journey of healing well and truly begun.
Me, myself and I
By definition, bipolar disorder refers to a person experiencing episodes of highs and lows, such as extreme mood swings of high energy, no sleep and an inability to connect with what's real and depressive episodes where you lose all interest in daily activities.
Up until a year ago, I was ashamed to have this disorder. With my lows, I rarely wanted to see anyone. Getting out of plans was my favorite thing to do. I'd make up excuses—saying things like "I have a migraine" or "I have other plans"—when in reality, I just needed to be left alone. However, I failed to realize being alone meant just that: I was on my own.
My brain was telling me I hated everyone, that I was better off on my own, but in reality, I really wanted to belong.
After I graduated college, I started on the path to becoming a teacher, but I always found myself full of stories. Fictional universes and characters would take over my dreams. I bought plenty of notebooks, wrote some things down, and thought nothing of it. I stayed on the path of teaching and moved to San Francisco to attend grad school. While there, I even co-wrote a book ("Writer's Block"), but I still ignored all of the signs pulling me toward becoming a writer.
Getting stronger every day
Now, several years later and $17,000 deeper in debt and regret, I am not teaching. I decided to start writing again in 2018, and haven't stopped since. My love for words lit a fire inside of me I'd never experienced before. The thing about writing is you do most of it alone. I didn't want to be alone, but the writing community and support I have received feels a lot better than any paycheck I've ever had. I can also make my own schedule, which leaves time for therapy, solitude and healing from my past.
To date, I have completed two novels and have been a freelance writer for the past year. I am not just surviving, but thriving.
I will never have a life without my bipolar disorder. It can feel like a lot during my lows, but I know I'll be okay. I just need to make sure I have pillows, essential oils and chocolate nearby to keep me grounded. And I need to keep communication open to the people in my life.
I may be bipolar, but I'm still me.