Continuing the Conversation
I was diagnosed with bipolar II, major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder at the age of 25. It’s hard for me to grasp that my official diagnosis was only two years ago because so much has transpired and changed since then. For 25 years, I had experienced thoughts of wanting to end my life. Wishing I were dead. I often made myself sick with worry and fear of going to school. Even at eight years old, I knew that these thoughts and feelings weren’t “normal.”
When I got to college, things escalated. I struggled for four years, bouncing back and forth between debilitating depression and too elevated moods. I moved back home after college and things began to escalate even further I found myself one night, unable to do anything besides lay on the floor in the fetal position, rocking back and forth sobbing. I held myself as tightly as possible to try and stop the pain. My skin hurt. My insides felt like they were going to burst out. I felt like I was going to explode. I was shutting down. I think that was the first time I realized that something was very wrong with me.
By the time I turned 25, I had moved to Charleston and began my career as a high school English teacher. I was doing what I always wanted to do, where I had always wanted to do it. I was happy, but I could feel the darkness growing. I was constantly trying to pretend it wasn’t coming, but I still checked around corners before I turned them. Making sure that it wasn’t there. But it was. At the age of 25 I visited a psychiatrist for the first time. I had started self-harming for the first time since I was 12. I was terrified of losing everything. At 25, I finally received an explanation. I wish I could say that after being diagnosed, I was in the clear. However, that is not how life tends to go. Roughly two months after my diagnosis, I found myself in the psychiatric emergency room. Once I was discharged, I vowed to myself that it would be the only and last time I was there.
However, the cycle continued. I was still pretty clueless about the warning signs of a depressive episode or a manic episode. I continued spiraling, as I always had. I felt nothing for a few months. I cared about nothing. I had panic attacks before work. I stopped responding to texts and calls. And the self-harm returned. Until all of a sudden, my mood started to lift. I now know that what I felt as a sudden burst of happiness, is actually my brain ramping up for mania. That summer is a blur to me. I believed that I was invincible. I blew through my savings in a month. My emotions were almost overwhelming and I acted on every single one of them.
As high up as I had gone, I plummeted even lower. I found myself feeling completely isolated and alone. All I felt was darkness and nothingness. The consequences of my actions surrounded me, screaming until they were all I could hear. Eventually I went deaf and everything went dark. There was nothing. I had hit the very bottom. And I was exhausted. I couldn’t fight to reach the surface anymore. I don’t remember much about that day. I had completely shut down. That day I checked myself back into the hospital for the second time. I spent ten days as an inpatient. This time I came out feeling better equipped to deal with my illness. I’ve learned the symptoms and I can recognize them. I know what I need to do and what I don’t need to do in order to live life as stable as someone like me can. I keep a mood chart and check-in with myself on a daily basis. This doesn’t mean that I still don’t have days where I feel empty or days when I feel too full. Those are still there. I’ve just learned to accept them. I’ve started participating in a DBT group once a week. For the first time, I feel in control of my life.
I am now in graduate school full time earning my degree in secondary school counseling. My professors are aware of my condition and believe that I can do this. They reassure me when I worry that I will not be able to be a good counselor because of my own struggles. I work for and with wonderful people who are understanding of my illness and what I need to do in order to handle it. This has made all the difference in the world.
I wish I could say all of this was easy. It wasn’t and it still isn’t and it never will be. I still struggle getting myself out of bed in the morning. I still will go a few days without showering. I still sometimes forget to eat. Except now, I have two goals for the day: brush my teeth and make my bed. Even if I immediately crawl back in bed after brushing my teeth, I still accomplished something.
I believe that if I had never walked into my psychiatrist’s office, I would not be alive right now. I believe that if I had not have checked myself into the hospital- both times, I would not be alive right now. There are numerous other reasons I can and do give credit to for saving my life. My family, my friends, my dog. I did the hardest thing to do—I asked for help.
We need to stop being afraid to ask for help when we’re struggling with suicidal thoughts. I think of how different things could have been, not only for me, but for others who have struggled the same as I have. Especially for those who lost their fight. If only it wasn’t so scary and we weren’t so afraid of what we would be labeled as if we chose to actually admit what is actually going on.
I have allowed my mental illness to take so much from me. I have let it ruin relationships, jobs, my education. It has left me with scars and a wake of destruction in my path. It has left me with a broken heart when I have come out of one of the spirals and have come face-to-face with the damage I have done.
But it has also given me things. It has given me an understanding of people and has made my love for people grow. It has given me a greater sense compassion. It has given me a desire to be better. And now it has given me a voice and a (for the most part) fearlessness in talking about it. For every time it has made me weak, it has also given me strength.
Mental illness doesn’t look like a person dressed all in black sitting alone. Although it sometimes does. Mental illness looks like me. It could look like you. It doesn’t discriminate based on the color of your skin, your sexual orientation, your religion, where you shop, if you have a good relationship with your parents, if you have parents at all.
I urge you to stop labeling those suffering with mental illness as crazy. I urge you to stop stereotyping what mental illness looks like. I urge you to stop referring to suicide as selfish. I urge you to stop thinking that depression is something that can be overcome if you’re strong enough. I urge you not to tiptoe around the cause of death when someone commits suicide. I urge you to be open if you are struggling. I urge you to continue the conversation if you have your own story to add.
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